A federal judge has rejected the latest lawsuit aimed at stopping Tejon Ranch Co. from building an upscale residential project near the company’s Lebec headquarters.
California Central District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled Dec. 4 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not violate federal guidelines when it approved a habitat conservation plan the plaintiffs alleged should have recognized the California condor as a “traditional cultural property” deserving special protection. Such a recognition could have sunk the housing development as proposed.
Carney wrote that the condor is not itself a traditional cultural property and neither is the condor’s habitat. He also found there is no evidence the defendant — the USFWS — ignored tribal input about proposed measures to reduce the impacts of development on the condor.
Tejon Ranch said in a news release Carney’s summary amounts to a repudiation of the anti-development efforts of the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity, which was a plaintiff in the suit along with the Ventura-based Wishtoyo Foundation and Delia Dominguez.
“The tactics employed by CBD to litigate, delay and obstruct proposed housing developments throughout California, including Tejon Ranch, are a significant contributing factor to the housing crisis in California,” the company said in the release.
CBD staff attorney J.P. Rose said by email the ruling “doesn’t change the fact that condors are critically endangered and sacred to Native peoples.”
“When agencies do things that are so plainly unwise and illegal, we look to the courts for relief,” Rose wrote. “Unfortunately, the court here deferred to the Fish and Wildlife Service despite the agency’s complete lack of expertise regarding the condor’s cultural significance.”
Tejon Ranch has proposed three major housing developments on its 270,000-acre property straddling southern Kern and northern Los Angeles counties. The one targeted in the lawsuit, Tejon Mountain Village, would site more than 3,400 homes, 750 hotel rooms and two golf courses near Frazier Park.
Tejon Ranch noted the CBD has repeatedly tried to delay development on Tejon Ranch. The group filed an environmental lawsuit against Kern County in 2009 and lost in superior and appellate state courts. It also sued to stop expansion of the Tejon Ranch Commerce Center but lost in superior and appellate courts.
“Even in the face of this onslaught by CBD and other environmental groups who rush to court to try and derail Tejon Ranch’s efforts to responsibly develop its landholdings and create thousands of homes and jobs for Californians,” it said in a news release, “Tejon Ranch Company remains fully committed to the ongoing stewardship of the ranch’s 270,000 acres, as it has done for over 175 years.”